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Video Game Violence

We read every message that readers submit to Science News for Kids, and we learn a lot from what you say. Two articles that really got you talking looked at video games. One story argued that video games can be good for you (see "What Video Games Can Teach Us"). The other argued that video games are bad for you (see "The Violent Side of Video Games"). These stories ran 3 years ago, and we're still hearing about them, almost weekly. In particular, those of you who enjoy killing people on screen disagree with research suggesting that your game-playing habits inspire you to act out. "I have played the most violent games available on the market today," writes Matteo, 15. "I don't go killing people or stealing cars because I see it in a game. My parents say that, as long as I remember it's a game, I can play whatever I want." Dylan, 14, agrees. "I love violent games," he writes. "And I haven't been in a fight since I was 12 years old." Akemi, now 22, says that he's experienced no long-term effects in 14 years of gaming. "I have been playing the games since I was at least 7," he writes. "I have no criminal record. I have good grades and have often been caught playing well into the night (that is, 4 hours or more)." Despite what these readers say, many scientific studies clearly show that violent video games make kids more likely to yell, push, and punch, says Brad Bushman. He's a psychologist at the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor. Bushman and his colleagues recently reviewed more than 300 studies of video media effects. Across the board, he says, the message is clear. "We included every single study we could find on the topic," Bushman says. "Regardless of what kids say, violent video games are harmful." TV watching TV has been around a lot longer than video games, so researchers have more data on the long-term effects of violent TV shows on people than they do on the effects of violent video games. In one study, scientists at the University of Michigan recorded the TV-watching habits of hundreds of first and third graders in 1977. Fifteen years later, the researchers looked at what kind of adults these kids had become. By the time they were in their early twenties, women who had watched violent shows as kids were four times as likely to have punched, choked, or beaten other people as were women who didn't watch such programs as kids. Boys who watched violent TV grew up to be three times as likely to commit crimes as boys who didn't watch such programs. But that doesn't mean that everyone who watched violent programs ended up being violent themselves. It was just more likely to happen for some people. In action Violent playing is even more powerful than violent watching, Bushman says. Maneuvering through a game requires kids to take action, identify with a character, and respond to rewards for rough behavior. Engaging in such activities reinforces effective learning, researchers say. In the game Carmageddon, for example, players get extra points for plowing over elderly or pregnant pedestrians in creative ways. Players hear screams and squishing sounds. "In a video game, you naturally identify with the violent character, and identification with violent characters increases aggression," Bushman says. "You're the person who pulls the trigger, who stabs, who shoots, who kicks. You must identify with the aggressor because you are the aggressor." Now, I know what some of you are thinking: Maybe people who are already violent to begin with are the ones who seek out violent media. "Video games may have an influence on human behavior or mentality, but I believe that whoever plays the game already has . . . a violent intent or nature within," writes Jason, 16. "I strongly doubt a nun whom you could somehow get to play Mortal Kombat for a while would eventually gain a violent personality or behave as such." Jake, 15, says, "I think it depends on how the kids were raised more than anything, and if people try to play life like a game then they are IDIOTS." But the University of Michigan study of TV watching found that people who were more aggressive as kids didn't necessarily watch more violent shows as adults. This finding suggests that watching violence leads to acting violently, not the other way around. Inflicting punishment In some of Bushman's studies, kids are randomly assigned to play either a violent video game, such as Killzone or Doom 3, or an exciting, but nonviolent, game, such as MarioKart or a Tony Hawk skateboarding game, for about 20 minutes. Then, each participant competes with a kid in another room on a task that challenges both players to press a button as quickly as possible. The winner gets to punish the loser with a blast of noise through a pair of headphones. The winner decides how long the noise will last and how loud it will be on a scale from 1 to 10. In one of these studies, players were told that blasting their partners at level 8 or above would cause permanent hearing damage. (For safety reasons, the invisible competitor in this study was imaginary, but the setup made participants believe that they actually had the power to make another person suffer a hearing loss.) The results showed that kids who played violent games first, then went to the task, delivered louder noises to their competitors than did kids who played nonviolent games first. Kids who played violent games and felt strongly connected to their on-screen characters sometimes delivered enough noise to make their invisible partners go deaf. Because kids in these studies don't get to choose which games they play, it seems clear that playing violent games directly causes aggressive behavior, Bushman concludes. And that aggressive behavior may appear not as criminal activity or physical violence but in more subtle ways in the ways people react to or interact with other people in everyday life. Brain studies Some scientists are looking at kids' brains to see how video games might affect their behavior. In one recent study, researchers from the Indiana University (IU) School of Medicine in Indianapolis assigned 22 teenagers to play a violent game for 30 minutes. Another 22 kids played a nonviolent, exciting game. Then, participants entered a special scanner that measured activity in their brains. For the next hour or so, the teens had to react to mind-bending tasks, such as pressing the "3" button when presented with three pictures of the number "1," or pressing the "blue" button when presented with the word "red" written in blue letters. The results showed that a part of the brain called the amygdala was especially active in players in the violent-game group, especially when follow-up tasks required them to respond to loaded words, such as "hit" and "kill." The amygdala prepares the body to fight or flee in high-stress situations. Moreover, among players in the violent-game group, a part of the brain called the frontal lobe was less active. The frontal lobe helps us stop ourselves from hitting, kicking, and performing other aggressive acts. Frame of mind Findings such as these don't mean that every kid who plays Grand Theft Auto will end up in jail, researchers say. Nor do they suggest that video games are the single cause of violence in our society. From the brain's point of view, however, playing a violent game puts a kid in a fighting frame of mind. "Maybe [kids have] figured out ways to control this but maybe they haven't," says IU radiologist Vincent Matthews, who led the brain-scan study. "If they look at their behavior more closely, they may be more impulsive after they play these games," he adds. "There's a lot of denial in people about what their behavior is like." Matthews now wants to see how long these brain changes last and whether it's possible to change the brain to its original state. Then, participants entered a special scanner that measured activity in their brains. For the next hour or so, the teens had to react to mind-bending tasks, such as pressing the "3" button when presented with three pictures of the number "1," or pressing the "blue" button when presented with the word "red" written in blue letters. The results showed that a part of the brain called the amygdala was especially active in players in the violent-game group, especially when follow-up tasks required them to respond to loaded words, such as "hit" and "kill." The amygdala prepares the body to fight or flee in high-stress situations. Moreover, among players in the violent-game group, a part of the brain called the frontal lobe was less active. The frontal lobe helps us stop ourselves from hitting, kicking, and performing other aggressive acts. Frame of mind Findings such as these don't mean that every kid who plays Grand Theft Auto will end up in jail, researchers say. Nor do they suggest that video games are the single cause of violence in our society. From the brain's point of view, however, playing a violent game puts a kid in a fighting frame of mind. "Maybe [kids have] figured out ways to control this but maybe they haven't," says IU radiologist Vincent Matthews, who led the brain-scan study. "If they look at their behavior more closely, they may be more impulsive after they play these games," he adds. "There's a lot of denial in people about what their behavior is like." Matthews now wants to see how long these brain changes last and whether it's possible to change the brain to its original state. Then, participants entered a special scanner that measured activity in their brains. For the next hour or so, the teens had to react to mind-bending tasks, such as pressing the "3" button when presented with three pictures of the number "1," or pressing the "blue" button when presented with the word "red" written in blue letters. The results showed that a part of the brain called the amygdala was especially active in players in the violent-game group, especially when follow-up tasks required them to respond to loaded words, such as "hit" and "kill." The amygdala prepares the body to fight or flee in high-stress situations. Moreover, among players in the violent-game group, a part of the brain called the frontal lobe was less active. The frontal lobe helps us stop ourselves from hitting, kicking, and performing other aggressive acts. Frame of mind Findings such as these don't mean that every kid who plays Grand Theft Auto will end up in jail, researchers say. Nor do they suggest that video games are the single cause of violence in our society. From the brain's point of view, however, playing a violent game puts a kid in a fighting frame of mind. "Maybe [kids have] figured out ways to control this but maybe they haven't," says IU radiologist Vincent Matthews, who led the brain-scan study. "If they look at their behavior more closely, they may be more impulsive after they play these games," he adds. "There's a lot of denial in people about what their behavior is like." Matthews now wants to see how long these brain changes last and whether it's possible to change the brain to its original state.

Video Game Violence
Video Game Violence








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